The first time I saw Hypnospace Outlaw, it felt like being hit by a shockwave: had someone really made the game I didn’t know I wanted all these years? I’ll explain, but first we have to go back. To the past. While it is rather obvious from a glance that I’m not writing about the bible or a 16bit sega console, there’s still a perfectly good (sort of) reason I chose to name this magazine “The Genesis Temple”.
My first website, debuting in April of 1999, sported the very same name, being of course dedicated to all things Sega related. I also uploaded interviews with emulator developers and random tidbits of information about me, along with the occasional Commodore 64 game. Sure, Sega related! It was hosted on a Geocities website, with logos and images I made by myself with Bryce3D and a little touch of Photoshop. Or maybe I should say Paint Shop Pro.
Here are a few chosen images of that beauty:
Hypnospace Outlaw transports the player back to those days, the wild west of websites. Back then, the best tool in your belt was, for the lucky few who actually had it, the rather cumbersome Microsoft Frontpage. The site contents were generally so improvised that most website felt like a mishmash of Myspace/Facebook/Flickr/Tumblr/LiveJournal all together. As a fitting example, the original Genesis Temple had a few external links and one description I wrote said “an hentai website with some emulators and Sega roms”. Cartoon porn and 16 bit games go together like bread and butter, don’t they?
Finding things was never easy, in 1999 I mostly relied on the help of Altavista, which proved useful only if it was a particularly lucky day. Well then, what if back then there were strict rules enforced by the internet providers and there were internet sheriffs going around taking down websites and their “illegal” content? That’s where the player comes in, you browse around for infringing websites on the HypnOS platform. Fnd a copyrighted image? Then strike it down! Afterwards more orders will come in, hunt down violating users and take down the content! Enough strikes and the user will get permanently banned from HypnOS.
While that alone could be a sort of sweet sadistic pleasure, much like reporting racist Facebook comments, the title also sports a perfectly recrated simulation of 90’s “home made” websites. The level of fidelity to a source material that is all but gone, shows that the trio of developers knows their stuff, Jay Tholen, Xalavier Nelson Jr. and Mike Lasch should be amply lauded. If one is also further interested in reliving those peculiar times, I would recommend to also follow Tholen’s curated Spotify playlist of instrumental FM Synthesis music from 84-98, it’s wonderful.
In so far as game design, since that’s what this magazine is all about, this is easily the best title I’ve played all year. It sets out to simulate an experience of alternate universe of 90s internet, along with a faux operating system, even going as far as recreating urban legends like “scroll your pointer to make the page load faster”. And, well, also succeeds at being fun to play. Even if one wasn’t there, that feeling of being “free”, that experience is meticously recreated. The oft-forgotten times when the net was anarchically different from the fearful times we’re experiencing today. While it would have been easier to reach for the rose tinted glasses, Hypnospace goes for a moderate critic of both past and present.
The bittersweet finale also was a perfect choice; the game does not really end, it rather implodes, making the player feel a bit like the first man to walk the earth after a catastrophic event. Hypnospace also gifted us with wonderfully groovy tunes that reverberated all through the ‘net like Squisherz and the unescapable Hot Dad/Chowder Man songs which are, for lack of a better nineties adjective, pure awesomeness. Hypnospace Outlaw was a labour of love and all the care and attention shines throughout.
With all that being said, it would hardly be described as a game for everyone, since it can be played at whatever pace one likes, but would hardly suit those who aren’t willing to explore and experiment. Also, a basic knowledge of 90s culture is clearly required to fully enjoy some of the references. This is not to say the game design is, overall, perfect, I sure did wish some things to be implemented differently, like the currency to buy antivirus and plugins to upgrade the operating system that, at times, felt like a virtual paywall more than anything. The ending could also have been a bit fleshed out and the adventure made longer even without adding any substantial content to what is already there, but that is beside the point.
Hypnospace Outlaw makes the player question the role companies play in our freedom on the Internet, what we lost and what we gained since those glory days of the ol’ wild west. In the heyday of personal websites, the player’s role is that of a small but essential role of guardian. Following orders is sometimes the only way to discover what is actually going on beyond the curtains. In the end, one will find out that, even when all hope is apparently lost, people will still pick up the pieces and rebuild.
Anyone who grew up on the internet in the early nineties, definitely should try Hypnospace and feel all that dormant freedom rushing back into the veins. Well, even if one was not, I am pretty sure that feeling will somehow come to life. The crude website that meant so much to you, a bit like a diary and a home away from home. Sometimes I feel like it’s still there, waiting for me with all the corny flaming GIFs and the bloodstained background I stole from another website.
May it live on for all times.